Looking for things to do in Orlando besides theme parks? Everyone knows that Orlando, Florida is famed for them. I’m talking ma-hu-ssive ones, with enchanting rides for children (including big kids at heart) and magical ones that bring even the grumpiest of souls out in excited glee.
However, like most things in life, all is not what it seems. Orlando has another side; something I like to call the local’s side. Yes, some of the locals love to go to the parks and have annual passes, but there’s a strong community of people who stay in the area for all the other amazing things to do and see (and of course for that happy Florida sunshine).
They were itching to share their favourite jaunts with me and it only seems fair that I let you in on the secret side of Orlando. It’s too lovely to keep to myself. So, here are my seven pearls of wisdom for you to use on your next trip:
Believe it or not, Orlando isn’t only full of sugary drinks. Nope. Over at Infusion Tea you’ll find organic teas served in quirky cups, with sandtimers so you can ensure your tea is brewed to perfection. The menu boasts so many intriguing combinations that it’s easy to see why the locals drive to this neck of woods for their tea fix.
The cafe also serves delicious vegetarian food. If you’re a fellow veggie, definitely bookmark this spot. They have dishes with lashings of avocado. Need I say more?
At one side of Infusion Tea you’ll find an arts co-op. Local talents display their cute and original creations for you to buy. There’s pretty jewellery, handmade cards and the sort of gifts that you don’t really need so to speak, but you just have to have.
The windows are filled with adverts for yoga classes and craft workshops. This laidback hippy spot is perfect for a long lunch. It’s in College Park, which is an adorable part of Orlando so double your visit up.
Infusion Tea: 1600 Edgewater Dr, College Park, Orlando, FL 32804
♥ Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
Nearly every local I spoke to wanted to tell me about this place. Apparently a theatre was very much needed in the area, so when this place opened in 2014 it was (and still is) an instant success. Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is very shiny and new. Productions are shared throughout each month, with weekday shows being just as packed with eager theatre-goers as weekend performances.
I watched Anything Goes, a supposed classic and really enjoyed it. Performances range from Broadway shows to ballet, jazz and all the in-between. They have some big names that you’d recognise too and tickets are really affordable. I’d definitely recommend booking tickets in advance.
Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts: 445 S. Magnolia Avenue, Orlando, FL 32801
♥ Scenic Boat Tour
When you fly into Orlando you can see a patchwork of swampy greens and vivid blues. It might surprise you just how many lakes there are. The best way to get a just a glimpse of how many there are and to see their true beauty is to do a boat tour. I’d recommend Scenic Boat Tour.
They run tours throughout the year, usually departing on the hour throughout the day. The elderly tour guides are adorable and really know their stuff. They’ll tell you who owns which lakeside mansions (great for nosy people like me!) and point out birds that you probably wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.
Orlando can be rather glossy and manufactured, so this is definitely a good option if you want to experience an authentic side. The departure point is Winter Park, which is a lovely neighbourhood that’s worth a visit in its own right.
Scenic Boat Tour: 312 East Morse Blvd. Winter Park, FL 32789
Whilst you’re in Winter Park, you need to eat at Prato. First up, the decor is super cool and cute. Shout out to the stylish wall garden.
Secondly, the food is delicious. Veggie options are limited (as seems to be the case with most places I visited in Orlando), but the mozzarella pizza more than makes up for this. I don’t know what their secret ingredient is (they must have one), but they seem to have reinvented such a simple dish. I cleared the lot and I’m pretty sure you will too.
Head here for a filling lunch or casual dinner. The prices are really reasonable and there’s free wifi. You’ll probably be okay to just rock up and get a table (that’s what I did), but book ahead if you have your heart set on eating here or you’re tight on time.
Prato: 124 N. Park Avenue, Winter Park, Florida
♥ Cookie Cousins
If you have a sweet tooth head to Cookie Cousins. They make tempting cookies (well, they’re what us English lot call biscuits). They’re really popular gifts with locals.
Beautiful shortbread style biscuits are hand-painted in beautiful, bright coloured icing. They’ll wrap them up in pretty bags and bows for you, but don’t think about taking them home with you. As they’re made fresh onsite they won’t make the journey. I guess it means that you’ll just have to keep them all to yourself. Boo hoo, what a shame (not!).
Cookie Cousins: 2322 Edgewater Drive, College Park, Orlando, Florida
Okay, this pearl is a 3-in-1. If you’re looking for Orlando shopping, head to Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets for amazing designer bargains. You’ll find stores like Gap, Timberland, Converse, Banana Republic, Kate Spade and loads more. Many of them have epic discounts, like 50-60% off.
My insider tip is to get dropped off at the far end where the tourist information desk is, as you can pick up fliers (or even a VIP pack) to get extra discounts. You can then start at the end and walk the length of the outlets to ensure you don’t miss out on any stores. I didn’t plan to buy anything and ended up with faaaar too many bags to carry. Those prices are just too good to resist (as are baby Converse for my soon to be here mini explorer!).
If you prefer independent, boutique stores then head to College Park or Winter Park. In Winter Park you’ll find most of the shops on N. Park Orange Avenue. Just start at one end and follow the path down. My fave shop was Forema Boutique as they had loads of quirky, cute clothes and jewellery.
I found College Park was better for homewares than clothes. Stroll along Edgewater Drive and pop in and out of the cute shops. When you need to cool down, pop into The Soda Fountain for a delicious ice-cream.
Go here for one reason alone. Artisan handmade apple and sage pasta, made with Irish cheddar, nutmeg mornay, panko topping, manchego and spiced cinnamon apple. OMG. I don’t even like Mac n Cheese, but this fancy version is hands down one of the most heavenly things I’ve ever put in my mouth. Try it – you won’t be disappointed.
Kasa specialises in small tapas style dishes. They recommend that you order two to three per person and if you’re eating on your own (like I was) you’ll have trouble trying to decide which delights to try.
Again, this place won’t break the bank and has free wifi. Definitely book ahead as this is a popular place with locals. Oh and it’s just around the corner from Dr. Phillips Center, so it’s good pre-theatre dinner stop.
Kasa: 183 S Orange Ave, Orlando, FL 32801
^^2018 Update: It appears Kasa has rebranded as a casual taco joint called Chela Tequila and Tacos. I haven’t tried it, so not sure if it’s as good as Kasa was^^
There are loads more things to do in Orlando (besides the parks), but these are the ones that I personally tried and tested (and would obviously recommend). I hope I’ve opened your eyes to some of the exciting things going on over there.
Replicate the Trip…
Stay: Walt Disney World Swan
Fly: Virgin Atlantic
Read More About Orlando…
An American Adventure at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin (Stylish hotel review)
IPW 2015: A Private Party at Disney and Lots More (Take a peek at Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios and more)
Fancy trying some of these pearls? Pin and bookmark on Pinterest for future trips…
Do you have any tips to add to this list? Does this side of Orlando surprise you? Share your thoughts in the comments section below! X
Big thanks to Visit Orlando for hosting my trip.